A Year: Day to Day Men: 8th of September, Solar Year 2018

Journey to the Emerald City

September 8, 1504 was the unveiling date of sculptor Michelangelo’s “David”.

Prior to Michelangelo’s involvement, the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral, had plans to commission a series of twelve large Old Testament sculptures for the buttresses of the cathedral. Two statues were completed: the figure of Joseph in terracotta by sculptor Donatello in 1410 and the figure of Hercules, also in terracotta, by Agostino di Duccio in 1483.

Eager to continue their project, in 1464, the Operai contracted Agostino to create a sculpture of David. A block of marble was provided from a quarry in Carrara, a town in the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany. Agostino di Duccio only got as far as beginning to shape the legs, feet, torso, and roughing out some drapery. His association with the project ceased, for reasons unknown, with the death of fellow sculptor Donatello in 1466.

The block of marble remained neglected for 26 years, all the while exposed to the elements in the yard of the cathedral workshop. This was of great concern to the authorities, as such a large piece of marble not only was costly but represented a large amount of labour and difficulty in its transportation to Florence. The Operai ordered the block of stone raised vertical so that a master experienced in this kind of work might examine it and express an opinion.

Though Leonardo da Vinci and others were consulted, it was Michelangelo, only 26 years old, who convinced the Operai that he deserved the commission. On August 16, 1501, Michelangelo was given the official contract to undertake this challenging task. He began carving the statue early in the morning on the 13th of September, a month after he was awarded the contract. Michaelangelo would work on the massive statue for more than two years.

On January 25, 1504, when the sculpture was nearing completion, Florentine authorities had to acknowledge there would be little possibility of raising the more than six-ton statue to the roof of the cathedral as previously conceived. They convened a committee of 30 Florentine citizens that comprised many artists to decide on an appropriate site for “David”. In June of 1504, “David” was installed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, replacing Donatello’s bronze “Judith and Holofernes”.

Michelangelo kept working on the finer finishing throughout the summer of 1504. The sling and tree-stump support were gilded, and the figure was given a gilded victory-garland. Sadly, all gilded surfaces have now been lost due to the long period of exposure to weathering agents. The unveiling of the finished work occurred on September 8th of that year. It became the symbol of liberty and freedom of the Republican ideals, showing Florence’s readiness to defend itself. In order to protect it from damage and further weathering, “David” was moved in 1873 to the Galleria del’ Accademia.

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